Thursday, December 23, 2010

Asking Answerable Questions

As stated previously, I've been working with my kids on their Google search skills, including searching with keywords, and using reliable websites (which does not include They are working on a project in which they chose a topic, created a plan in Inspiration, found answers to their questions on Google, wrote a script (which we're just now finishing), and will make it into a short documentary in iMovie after Christmas. However, the sticking point for many has come not when they use complete questions to search (partially because Google "suggests" it for them) or when they use unreliable sources, but when they want to find out questions that just aren't there.

I am a firm believer in the fact that just about anything you want to find out is on Google. However, through this project, it has become clear to me that there is an art to asking a question that has an answer on Google. In discussing this with some friends the other day, one of whom is a doctor, he brought up that in medical school, they teach students to ask answerable questions. As soon as he said that phrase, I knew that was the exact problem my students were having. They are asking unanswerable questions. In reality, most of the things do have answers, they are just things that basically no one wants/needs to know. You may beg to differ, but I ask you, why do there need to be answers to questions such as the following:
  • how many kinds of doctors are there in the world?
  • what's the best car?
  • why do penguins eat fish?
  • why did Martin Luther King call his speech "I have a dream"
  • were Batman and Robin friends?
Now that I have a name for the problem my students are having, I have to find a way to address it. Part of the issue is realizing when they're asking silly questions that they essentially know the answer to (Martin Luther King said "I have a dream" because he had a dream!) Another issue that I need to address with all my classes is the fact that if you search for a question that's about an opinion, at best, all you'll get are other people's opinions. Hence, if you ask who's the best player in the NBA, you'll get a lot of people's opinions. In addition to that, they need to be as specific as possible in what they're searching for. I don't know how many times I've told classes that searching for "cars" is going to bring WAY more information than you need and that using several keywords is essential. But still, I find people searching "dogs."

I may also have fed into this issue to a certain degree, because I had them all come up with questions they wanted answered, when in reality, I probably should have just had them identify categories they wanted more information on. Hence, I end up with questions like, "Do tigers like to run?" as opposed to categories like "how tigers hunt."

Wow! There, I think I'm actually a few steps closer to putting into words what makes a good, answerable, useful question! Hope it helps you too!

[PS: The picture is totally irrelevant, but it's what you see when you get to school before 7 AM!]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plain English

This week, Wikipedia has been my best friend and worst enemy. Ok, that may be a bit melodramatic, but I have seen it's good and bad side. (Impressive, for a 2 day week!)

My 7th graders have been working on creating a documentary on topics of their choice. In one of my classes, I have a blind student. I've been working with his Visual Impairment teacher to help modify lessons so he can participate. (First of all, you'd be amazed how much work it is to use a computer completely without a mouse or visual cues of where you're at.) The part of the project the kids are working on right now is using Google to effectively search for information. His teacher told me that web searching is sort of a mess for the visually impaired since websites are all designed differently, so screen-reading software reads them all differently. So, I decided simply to find one basic website, and let the screen reader read him the information that he was looking for about WWI. Where did I turn? Wikipedia.

I got to the website for him, set him up, and let it go. When I came back, he said he didn't understand any of it, so I listened for a second. It turns out that every time text is a link, a screen reader says "Link" before it reads that word. Hence, a wikipedia entry might sound like this:

Long-term causes, such as link imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of link Europe, such as the link German Empire, the link Austro-Hungarian Empire, the link Ottoman Empire, the link Russian Empire, the link British Empire, link France and link Italy, played a major role.

Needless to say, I can understand why that would be confusing. So, I spent the rest of class (while managing 30 other kids) trying to find a website that didn't sound ridiculous and have unnecessary links. (I failed.)
However, my faith in Wikipedia was restored today when I found a student looking at a picture of the bus that Rosa Parks rode on. I looked at the picture and started to read the caption when I realized it was in French. I asked why he was reading in French (which he doesn't speak), and he said he must have accidentally clicked on the language button on the left side of the page. As we scanned the list of languages, I noticed one listed as "Simple English." I clicked on it, and it "translated" the page into plain English. As I read the page, it occurred to me that it is PERFECT for ELL students learning English and younger students who need less complex sentences and words. (When I translated the page back into the regular English entry, it included more information and in more complex forms.) Simple English Wikipedia has over 65,000 articles, which is, of course, not close to the nearly 3.5 million articles the standard version has, but still a substantial number. About 80% of the things I was looking for were there.

While it does still have plenty of links, and is therefore not very suitable for my blind student, it is perfect for many, many other students. I particularly like that the homepage says that it is meant to be simple wording and descriptions of things that may not be simple concepts, which makes it particularly suitable for older students learning English or who may have learning disabilities. Also, students can add to it. If they know more information that isn't included on a topic, they can submit it. If a page they're looking for isn't there, they can create it. You just can't beat plain English!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Give it a try!

This summer, the district began a cadre of teachers who wanted to learn how to make video tutorials using Screenflow, a program that records audio, video, and actions on your screen. I knew this could be extremely useful in various settings, so I signed up. Each month, we have assignments on which educational technology tools we are to create a screencast about. The theory is that it takes about an hour of work for every minute of video you create, and district wants 3 minute videos. Unfortunately, mine tend to take closer to an hour and a half of work for each minute of completed video. But, they end up being very effective, so it's exciting.

My first video was about Wallwisher, an online sticky note website. It got pretty good reviews from district personnel, so I was happy about that. For the next month, I made one on Google Lit Trips. Google Lit Trips were created by a guy named Jerome Burg and they basically take books and plot their locations in Google Earth. Then, all users do is download the "layer" in Google Earth and it automatically flies to those locations and brings up comments, discussion questions, quotes, etc. from the book. Some of the books they have done this with include "Make Way for Duckling" and "Grapes of Wrath."

My video was posted on our district website and Youtube channel about a week ago. On Friday before I left school, I got a phone call from one of the district Instructional Technology Specialists (which I aspire to be ;-)), and he read me the following comment left on the video on Youtube:
This is Jerome Burg, from Google Lit Trips. I just wanted to thank you for your excellent introduction to the project. I'm honored by your kind words. I don't know if you noticed the new link to videos on the front page, but that link is actually a search string that finds all YouTube videos about Google Lit Trips. I just tested it and sure enough yours shows up.
Thanks again, it means much to me.
I was so excited to see that 1) ANYONE saw what I made, and 2) that one of the people who saw it was the creator of the whole thing! It was definitely exciting to see the power of the web :-) It once again strengthened my view that you won't get anywhere in life without putting yourself out there. It's true: someone might say no, it might not work, people might not like it, etc. but you'll never know if you don't try. In my case, it's not like there aren't smarter, more tech-savvy people out there (there are TONS), but I'm slowly getting closer to my goal, just by trying things out and occasionally failing, but often succeeding.

Google doesn't speak English

Before fall break, a teacher came up to me and said some of my favorite words (other than, "Go home, take the day off, you deserve it!"). He said, "Hey, I'd really love some help with integrating technology, especially now that I have the new Activboard. Can you help me sometime?" Yes, yes!!! :-) This is one of my favorite things to do at school. [Note that I didn't say one of my favorite things is to FIX technology.]

After a brief discussion with him, we established that he'd like to start with doing web research with his 5th graders. This was an excellent place to start, because I was planning on doing the same thing with my 7th graders in the coming weeks. So, last week, when the internet was down at school and the battery on my laptop was dead, I hand-wrote my lesson plan for the first time ever. (It bites, because my handwriting is awful and I'm not good at visually organizing information on paper.) But, all in all, it was a good start.

Yesterday morning, it was time to put the rubber to the road and I went over to work with the 5th graders. Since I had previously come in and seen some of their projects on Native Americans, I started with that topic. First, I had them close the laptops, and then take out their textbooks. (Sometimes you have to go back in time to make current technology make sense.) After we established a research question, "Why did the Iroquois build longhouses?" I had them look it up under W for Why (according to a suggestion by a student, which is what I was hoping someone would say :-)) Needless to say, it took about 15 seconds for them to realize that wasn't going to work. So then, we narrowed it down to keywords (Iroquois, longhouse, why) and I had students come highlight them on the Activboard. They looked up those keywords and came up with much more information.

From there, we addressed the fact that Google is basically an index, and you have to search in keywords, just like you do in an index. Additionally, I tried to emphasize that Google doesn't speak English, so complete sentences are irrelevant, because it looks up every single web page with all of the words you searched (including every page with Why, every page with The, etc.) That brought us to searching the keywords in the question, and then refining the search with other synonyms for better results (why, cause, reason, etc.). I also made sure to emphasize that the more accurate keywords you use, the more you'll narrow down your search results (referencing the number of results Google found).

Once we were clear on that, I had them do a quick 3 question Google Form survey/quiz to determine that we were understanding it, and then reviewed the results together, which show up in a linked Google Spreadsheet in real time. (By the way, Google Forms are the coolest thing ever for that type of instant results without expensive "clicker" systems. It's another option when you create a new item in Google Docs.) Overall, it seemed to work like a charm :-) Hopefully, it'll work that well with 7th graders :-)

I'm planning on going in to the 5th grade class again and reviewing web site quality and reliability next, and then (at least with the 7th graders) we'll talk about Advanced Search options. In the grand scheme of things, this seems like a really little thing to get excited about, but the topic is so crucial, since it's something the kids will use (eventually) multiple times a day, essentially every day of their lives. So, it's exciting seeing them learn a skill that will be so critical down the road. Whether its cool or not, its exciting to be a part of it!

PS: I dressed up as Google for Halloween. White pants and shirt, with Google logo and search bar pinned to my shirt :-)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Meaningful Blog Comments

Having spent the last several weeks teaching my 7th grade classes how to write a blog post and upload a legal, relevant image, I decided that this past week was the time when we'd embark on commenting. Given that these students are intimately familiar with MySpace, it was a bit surprising how much they did NOT know about online commenting (on blogs or otherwise).

Since I only see my students for 45 minutes, 9 times a quarter, I was not able to use projects or discovery type learning to teach a fantastic lesson on this topic, as I know many others are able to do. (Here are sources one & two I used to form the basis of what I taught, and another I just noticed today.) Instead, I ended up just telling them the most salient points.

These were the sections all students were to include on every comment they left:
  • First, write something positive or a compliment. Just as teachers can always find at least something positive to say about a student's writing, we should all be able to find something positive to say about a blog post.
  • Second, give a suggestion or ask a question about what they wrote. This tells the author that you are interested in what they have to say on a given topic.
  • Third, add information to what they said. This might be a related experience or information that they might not know about their topic. This way, the author's knowledge is deepened by your comment.
  • Sample comment: That's cool that you like bracelets. They're colorful and very creative. Do you make them yourself? Colors of bracelets have meanings too!
I also explained these qualifications about commenting, hoping to eliminate hostile, inappropriate exchanges:
  • Comments are NOT private communication between you and the post author. Anyone in the world can read them, LITERALLY, including parents, friends, principals, teachers, people in China, etc. (I emphasized this a lot to 13 year olds!)
  • People form opinions of you based on what you write. You want to make sure that people know you are an intelligent human being by using proper grammar, spelling, and that you double-check for silly mistakes before you submit comments. This also means no text language! You don't want someone thinking that you think the word "you" has 1 letter! Also, 17 exclamation points are unnecessary. One or two get the point across just as well.
  • You are free to disagree with blog posts, but you must do it respectfully. This means not saying "Your crazy, that idea sucks!" but intelligently stating your opinion WITH REASONS, without being rude, insulting, or hurtful. Stating an opinion without reasons makes people dismiss your comments immediately.
Throughout the week, I moderated the comments to delete the one-sentence comments (as I had told them I'd do), inappropriate things, and to generally keep tabs on the conversations. Had I discovered this comment earlier in the week, it would have been my perfect example of how NOT to comment: (I would link to it, but I deleted it!)

This post, however, has some much higher-quality comments on it. While there is still a lack of punctuation or improper grammar in some of the comments, I think it turned into a decent little group of thoughts. I would spend more time ensuring proper conventions in writing, but with 26 different classes a week, I just don't have time. If I catch them before they've posted it, I'll have them fix it. Otherwise, as long as its an intelligent comment that adds to the conversation, I'm willing to let some of those things go, momentarily. But it will be addressed every time we blog, as a reminder.

I think these guidelines should make for a good baseline for all online commenting in my classrooms throughout the year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teaching in the Dark Ages

On Tuesday, the biggest storm Phoenix has seen in years swept through the Valley, leaving a trail of hail-pitted destruction in its path. The first wave of the storm hit around noon, and shortly after, it began hailing, which is nearly unheard of in Phoenix. (See my pic above.) At this point, I was supposed to be teaching a photojournalism class with a very rough group of 8th graders. After about 5 minutes of "class" we watched a power line short out in front of our window, and very shortly thereafter, the power went out. It quickly became clear that the best that I could hope for was that they would sit down and watch the storm out the window. Eventually, their teacher ended up taking them back to class since there was literally nothing I could do without power.

This was almost a shock to me, because I've always prided myself on being able to make anything into a learning activity. And, in this case, in a regular classroom, I could have. In regular classrooms, there are still books, textbooks, paper, pencil, etc. One of the other 8th grade teachers had his students write stories about it (what I would've done), and another had them paint pictures of the storm. However, in a computer lab, there was literally NOTHING I could do in terms of computers without power (short of taking them apart, and I couldn't even do that with Macs), and I obviously wasn't sending them out with cameras in the rain (not like I could've uploaded the pictures anyway). At best, we would have been telling stories.

In this case, the teacher actually just volunteered to take them back to class (I didn't put up too much of a fight :-)) By the time my next class came an hour later, it had cleared up even though the power was still out, so I sent them out with the cameras to document the storm. (I uploaded them all to my computer when I got home.) Out of the 200+ pictures they took, there were even a few good ones. (See below.)

It was one of the very few times in my life where I've literally been stumped as to what to do next. It was a very unnerving feeling. This has since inspired me to come up with 1) some good stories to tell in case this happens again, and 2) some verbal activities kids could do in this situation. Anyone else have any other suggestions?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New ideas

Have you ever had an idea that hits you all at once? So far, (at least in education) my best ideas come to me this way. These are definitely the ideas that I'm the most passionate about. This includes the online class I taught about using interactive whiteboards, which I loved, and the idea I had for my first proposal to present at a conference (still waiting to hear about this one).

One of these ideas hit me the other week. As a new trainer for the interactive white boards, I realized that teachers needed something beyond just a how-to class for the IWB software. What I would have loved when I had already completed the training but was stuck on where to go from there, was a class to sit and work on digital "flipcharts" for the board with someone to help me when I got stuck.

So, I immediately emailed my instructional technology director about such a course who promptly...did not get back to me. However, 4 days later, when he did get back to me (since he'd been out of town), he said it was a great idea, and would I be interested in heading up this idea. I was thrilled to be given such a chance, and even more happy that this type of idea had already been floated by other trainers during the summer, so there was already support for it.

This plan is really starting to move along, as we have a planning meeting this week with trainers regarding what such a forum will look like. It will definitely be come and go, and have trainers available to answer questions as needed. We are planning whether it will have any teaching component for the whole group (like higher-order thinking, integrating the software into actual curriculum, etc.) or if it will just be an "Activboard Study Hall" as we are currently calling it. (Do you remember how awesome study hall was in high school? Best thing ever, in terms of homework.) As soon as those things are planned, we'll begin implementing these classes, so yay for good ideas coming to fruition!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Opinions matter!

Last week was the first week my photojournalism class started using the cameras. (I was trying to put it off, because it meant they'd be going outside taking pictures, and it was still around 110 degrees outside.) So, after spending weeks on introductory work with rules, writing captions, and learning photo rules, we finally busted out the cameras.

And it was a disaster. Actually, it wasn't terrible, it was just that 45 minutes was not even close to long enough to do what I wanted. I had been going over practices that make quality photos, having them choose a few practices, and then going outside with the cameras to try it out. This worked really well, in fact, because they loved examining what made a good picture (we'd look at 2 pix side by side, identifying why one was better than the other), and then they had fun trying to take their version of "artistic" photos after that. The problem came when we tried to upload the pictures in the last 3 minutes of class, never having done it before. (They had also never used iPhoto.)

This is a classic mistake I tend to make when teaching a new technology. I give the kids plenty of credit in terms of using the technological savvy that their generation has to "figure things out" without much explanation, however they tend to need more time to do it than I think. Which was exactly what happened here. Also, another critical error I made was having an inadequate check-out system for the cameras, which resulted in 2 cameras being stolen during the first class of the first day!! Under severe threat of field trip removal, they were returned by lunch, but I became very aware of a need to change my system.

So, the next day, I changed things up by shortening the discussion of how to take good pictures, reviewing camera rules, creating a sign-out/sign-in sheet for the cameras, and keeping the kids in the room to take pictures. Still disastrous, and I had my worst class coming up! Hence, over my lunch period, we did a total revamp. Out of frustration, I just wrote all the instructions on the board for a new lesson that involved beginning with iPhoto, then taking a picture and uploading it. Then, when the class came in, I asked their opinion if they wanted to go through all the steps together, or whether they wanted to just read them and work at their own pace. They chose to work at their own pace, and it worked like a charm. They immediately got started and it was as close to quiet as that room has ever been. What a relief!

I kept following this pattern with the rest of my 8th grade classes the rest of the week and it worked great. Most classes chose to work individually, but a couple chose to work together. No matter what they chose, it worked remarkably better than the original system, I think because they had input into how they were going to take in the information. Let's face it, when you're 14, all you want in life is to be in charge, even if in a very small way. Lesson learned: give them a choice!

This is the set of steps I eventually ended up using for this lesson:

1. Take a screen shot of something on your desktop (Command+Shift+4 on Mac)
2. Open iPhoto.
3. Create a new folder in iPhoto with your name (File-->New Folder).
4. Create a new album in iPhoto labelled "First Try" (File-->New Album).
5. Drag your album into your folder.
6. Drag your screenshot into your album.
7. Memorize the Camera Rules. Tell them to Mrs. Shetler in order to sign out a camera.
8. With a partner, each take a picture of one THING in the classroom (no people!)
9. Upload your pictures into iPhoto and drag them into your album.
10. (If time,) select the picture and edit it in iPhoto.

(The photo is by one of my students, taken on Constitution Day.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How students use Google Instant

Last week, I had an 8th grade photojournalism student who was supposed to be working on a blog post caption about a picture of the 1963 March for Freedom in Washington DC. I had showed them the pictures they were to write captions for in advance, and had showed the picture below and mentioned that the Washington Monument was in the background. (For your entertainment, I only told them this after I was corrected by a student on Thursday who informed me that it was NOT the Lincoln Memorial as I said, but the Washington Monument. Oops!)

Since all the students had to do was look at the photos and write captions for them in the format we'd discussed, I was surprised to find a student on Google. I walked over to him and told him to get back to work, but he then told me that he was trying to figure out how to spell Washington Monument, and he was using Google Instant to help him figure out when he was right! So, he'd type letter by letter until it brought out the words he was trying to spell and a picture and map of the correct item, and then he'd go back and type it correctly in to the blog post. Genius!

[By the way, automatic spell check in every program in Macs is one of my favorite school features. Whoever thinks spell check is bad for kids, has never been so terrified that they asked the teacher why the computer says their name is spelled wrong. Kids are way more likely to correct their spelling when they know its wrong in the first place.]

Teaching Tech or Teaching WITH Tech?

[Don't worry, I haven't bailed on teaching technology, just thought the low-tech, no spell-check sign was funny! :-)]

I've completed my first month of teaching technology for 7th grade and photojournalism for 8th grade. I would say it's been a successful month, on the whole. Since I'm teaching a "special area" class for self-contained junior highers, I only see each group of kids once a week, which means I've spent a total of 3 hours with them, so far. While this has eliminated a lot of management issues, it's also made me realize a number of other things about teaching (or my opinion of it).

First of all, the kids are great (by and large). The 8th graders require a shorter leash to keep them on task, and are less patient with any words coming from my mouth (i.e., the quicker I can get them working on a project, the better), but are able to think deeper. The 7th graders are sweeter (currently) and are more interested in learning to do things on the computer, but have less background knowledge of computers.

I am enjoying teaching students how to use various technologies (ranging from blogs to online stickies to digital cameras to Powerpoint), but doing it in 45 minutes and/or having them remember what to do after 7 days is a bit of a challenge. I enjoy not having to explain or justify WHY I am using technology to administrators, but since I'm a traveling teacher to 4 schools, administrators are just glad there is someone in the room. It does take more patience teaching how to use specific technologies in the beginning, but the payoff should be worth it.

However, what I'm learning is that while I don't miss classroom deadlines, test score analysis, administrative pressure, behavior management, etc., I do miss finding ways to integrate technology INTO my curriculum (as opposed to technology BEING the curriculum). I'm trying to integrate a bit of the curriculum into the technologies I'm supposed to be teaching, but it's not quite the same. So, to scratch that itch, I try to offer suggestions and help other teachers who need assistance in that area as much as possible.

On a related note, I've gotten to do a lot more training for other teachers this year, as I've finally learned a number of lessons in education (now that I'm starting my sixth year). Some of those lessons include:
-If you want to do something/go somewhere, ASK.
-Figure out who you need help from, and get on their good side
-Put yourself out there (if you are curious about something new, try it; you might be good at it)
-Don't be afraid to fail (blessings might come from the experience anyway)
Hence, this year I've done some trainings for IWBs (which is a blast) and am getting ready to do a digital poster session for Delicious soon at the district's Speed Date Your Computer event.

Overall though, my eventual goal is still to end up doing teacher training full time with large groups, as well as working with teachers individually to help them integrate technology into the curriculum.

So, all that to say, if I have to choose between teaching tech or teaching WITH tech, I want to teach people to teach with tech :-) (There's some tongue-twisting alliteration for you!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Aaaaannnd back to the grind!

After a long, crazy, drawn-out summer of applications and interviews, (and not feeling like blogging), I'm back at school, teaching 7th grade Computers and 8th grade Photojournalism. This is a definite change from a 7th grade self-contained class, a change I'm thrilled to make. However, I'm not thrilled that I'll be traveling between 4 schools!!

There are definitely some bonuses though :-) One of those is that I get more prep, which is fantastic! I'm planning on using some of the extra time to do professional development with teachers who want it. I started out with this last week by doing a quick, 1 hour, "Meet Your Activboard" session for teachers who are brand new to it. They loved it. The more time I spend with teachers and technology, I realize that there are very few people who are totally against technology in the classroom; it turns out that most teachers would really like to learn how to use it, they just haven't had quality professional development. I hope that I can alleviate that issue :-)

Today was the first day of school, and I taught 2 lessons three or four times each, which I LOVED! 45 minutes each, and out the door :-) Such a relief. I think I'm going to love teaching photojournalism with the 8th graders. We did a brief discussion of what it was, and to give them a taste, I showed them a few photos from this series by the 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner. They were fascinated with it. Then, both 7th and 8th graders used to post some unique things about themselves. Additionally, the 8th graders posted an image from Google of something that represented them (couldn't be a person) and they did a pretty good job, though 45 minutes for all of this plus going over rules wasn't quite enough time. Luckily, I have 19 more times to teach these classes to get everything right :-)

I think it'll be a good year :-)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

When we got to Paris yesterday, for some of us, (Darla mainly), this was the first experience having NO understanding of the language, which tends to be rather unnerving. After straightening out some confusion with train tickets for the next leg of the trip, we tracked down our hotel. After a quick scamper up the 6 spiral flights of stairs, (more of a winded, sweaty, stomping up the stairs), we dumped our stuff and prepared for a day in Paris! It was at this point that it became blatantly clear that 2 years of mandatory language study (like Ben's French) are apparently worthless. No idea how to pronounce words, letters, nothing. Oh well.

First and foremost we went to get Paris Museum passes, in order to avoid lines and save money. Since we happened to wander past it first, we checked out Sainte-Chapelle, an AMAZING set of stained glass windows in a small chapel that tell the story of the entire bible up to Jesus death. After grabbing a quick sandwich for lunch, we wandered up to the Champs-Elysses, past the Louvre (I know, I know, we're uncultured. None of us are particularly interested in that era of art) and enjoyed a respite sitting by a fountain in the Tuileries gardens.
As we wandered our way to the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysee, it was clear that there had been some large event there, which was being cleaned up (bleachers, streets blocked off, etc.) and then realized that the Tour de France had just ended at that location, days earlier. After window shopping at the high end places (like the flagship Louis Vuitton store), we climbed a never-ending spiral staircase to the top of the Arc, which had beautiful views of the city and the Eiffel Tower. When we came down, we watched in amazement as nobody was killed in the crazy traffic circle around the Arc, in which 12 streets all come into one gigantic, insane traffic circle.

Finally, we decided it was time to examine the Eiffel Tower in detail. When we got there, we decided to eat a lovely French supper overlooking the Eiffel Tower until twlight fell, and watch the tower light up and then climb it. In actuality, the sun doesn't set in Paris until like 10:00 PM, so we had things like goat cheese, quiche, and duck for supper overlooking the tower, and then realized itwas going to be at LEAST another hour and a half before it got dark. Hence, we just decided to start climbing, which ended up being cool, because we were on it right at sunset. We could only climb up to the 2nd floor, but it was amazing, nonetheless, especially lit up at night. The best part was that it lit up and had flashing strobe lights at the top of every hour, which was absolutely breath-taking from outside the tower, as the whole thing basically appeared to be sparkling. Even though it was packed with tourists and people selling crap, it was absolutely, 100% worth it :-)

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Shoulder-Tap Leadership

One of the lessons I've learned in teaching is that I have a responsibility, as a teacher, to tell kids what gifts I recognize in them, whether or not they do themselves. In fact, it is even more important if they are unaware of it. Hence, I've intentionally started telling kids what I think they'd be good at, in terms of a career, or the types of roles they might occupy down the line. When I told a current student that she should consider a career as a writer or journalist, she was embarrassed, but clearly excited to consider such a thing. In middle school, being given a word of direction or encouragement is sometimes all that is needed to get them to start seriously considering their futures.

I have been doing this a lot in the recent past, as opportunities have arisen. When a middle school leadership conference opportunity came up, I picked as many kids as I as allowed (3). When I asked specific kids if they were interested, they all said yes (yay for my judgement :-)) and one fairly beamed when I asked her. Upon returning from the conference today, they all said they had a wonderful time and were thrilled at being given the opportunity to attend. One even said, "Mrs. Shetler, will you please tell my 8th grade teacher that I would like to be selected to attend this event next year as well?"

Then, several weeks ago, I selected 8 or 10 students to be recognized via People to People as students with potential leadership. (You know, the type of organization that invites you to attend a "reception gala" in DC--on your own dime, of course--and then asks you to buy the book with your name in it for $29.99 or something. I didn't really care about the rest, just wanted kids to know they were thought of in that way.) On Thursday, the selected students received letters explaining this. Right away, I had kids come up to me saying things like, "Thank you for nominating me, Mrs. Shetler!" and "My mom was so proud of me!" and "My mom is going to frame that letter!" and "I get the window and John gets the aisle when we go to Washington!" I wasn't sure how to explain to them how the trip actually works, though I tried. (But today, I still had students talking about having car washes to raise money to go!) So, I was thrilled at how excited those kids were.

Unintended consequence though: all the kids that didn't get nominated wanted to know why! I felt so bad when one of my gifted kids who I've had for two years now asked why I didn't nominate him... So, I had to explain to them that no matter how smart they may be, leadership is just one of many desirable traits a person can have.

Despite this philosophy putting me in the occasional tough position, I still firmly believe that it is essential to recognize skills in students, especially leadership skills, since it is clear that we are in desperate need of future leaders in this state!

Monday, March 15, 2010

MEC 2010 Day 1

"How did you get your administrator to let you go to that MEC conference at ASU??" Well, I asked. If you wish you could go to a fun tech conference, ASK! I can't guarantee it'll work all the time, but it works more often than you'd imagine :-) I had a blast today at my first big edtech conference, and especially had fun tweeting about it! I never get to tweet that much since I don't have a data plan on my phone :-) Anyway, here's a quick summary of some of the cool things I learned about:

-Twitter -Great workshop with Tony Vincent :-)
-Live Classroom 2.0-Free weekly edtech webinars
-Kidsblog-A free blogging service for kids that doesn't require email addresses
-Twoogie-a fun one for fans of Twitter and Doogie Howser MD :-)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Back Side of Web Blockers

In a good example of the double-edged sword of web blockers, I posed a veiled challenge to my kids a week or two ago. We were getting ready for our quarterly benchmark tests and I knew we hadn't talked about tides yet in science and that it was going to be on the test, and I was running short on time. Hence, I wrote the following on the board: Find a video online that describes to you how tides work. Then embed that video in a blog post. I have never done any of those things with the kids before, but I wanted to see what/how they'd do :-)

Not surprisingly, they knew exactly how to find videos, but they also know that youtube is blocked. So, immediately, one kid raises his hand and asks what to do, since youtube was blocked. I said, "Figure it out," knowing that 1) there are plenty of other places to find videos online, and 2) there are even more proxys available which get you around web blockers to the blocked site. 30 seconds after the first kid raised his hand, someone else goes, "Got it! I'm in!" They found a proxy (several actually) that worked, and others used various other sources. Eventually, everyone got a basic idea of how tides work, though we ran out of time for the embedding bit. I'll try that again some other time :-) Then, to guarantee that everyone had the same understanding I wanted them to have, I showed them this high-quality video from HowStuffWorks, which helped out as well. Yay for technology!

A few cool tech things

As the kids (and the teachers) start to wind up for our state standardized testing (AIMS) and other tests, stress levels rise and behavior goes down the tubes. Needless to say, this is true on both sides of the teacher's desk. So, as is usually my M.O., I've resorted to technology to ratchet down stress levels and behavior issues.

About a month ago, I ran across this genius idea by @rmbyrne on Twitter (author of the always excellent Free Technology for Teachers blog). His idea was to take a topic and compare what different technology sources say about it. So, since women's suffrage was next up in our march through US History, we read the 8 paragraphs in the textbook about women's suffrage, then read sections of the Wikipedia entry on the same topic, and then looked at primary source documents (which we've studied) about women's suffrage. Then, the students wrote blog posts explaining why they would choose one source over another, and how the information that was offered by each differed.

This turned out to be a great exercise. It benefitted the students in several ways. First, it showed them the beauty of Wikipedia (which they've discovered off-handedly, but we haven't done any direct work with). They weren't aware how much information could be found there, which needless to say, is a wealth of information. Next, in order to save time, which was not surprisingly, running short, I found about handful of primary source items available online (poems, photos, legislative documents, etc.) , showed them to the kids and explained them. First of all, they were very interested in them, which was great. But even better, I was shocked to discover that they were fascinated with the concept of the Library of Congress, where I'd found some of the sources. They just thought it was the coolest thing that there was a place where all these original sources were stored :-) Bonus for the LOC! And finally, they were able to reflect on which source was most effective in various ways on the class blog, by answering some questions I posed.

Speaking of the blog, I was thrilled to discover last week that somehow, a college class of students studying to be teachers discovered our class blog and posted lots of comments on it. The kids were THRILLED to see that other people actually cared about what they had to say!

Where can a degree get you?

It occurred to me recently, that after 5 years of teaching, I'm a good teacher, but I'm still an awful classroom manager, and it exhausts me every single day. No, I take it back. I knew that already. What occurred to me is that there are ways around that part of teaching, and I really don't have to make myself suffer through something that just does not come naturally to me.

Lucky for me, I (will in May) have a degree that can get me to those kinds of jobs. So, this year, I'm not just applying to 2 places, I'm looking at all kinds of other places, from teaching educational technology at online universities or in face-to-face community colleges, to teaching basic computer classes to middle schoolers, to doing professional development for teachers, to teaching online classes for a K-12 online school.

So, I've sent out inquiries to many of these places and am planning on sending out more. I finished my Curriculum Vitae the other day, which felt good (and professional :-)) It was surprising as I created the CV and my resume, to realize that I am actually pretty qualified for many of the positions I listed above! Good job, NAU! It feels great to actually have some options outside of teaching in an elementary self-contained classroom. That's the thing with a BA in education. Generally, the only thing you can do with it is teach. So, I'm excited to have more options. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 25, 2010

New ideas and old stories

Here are a few random thoughts I'm submitting for your review. I hadn't posted anything in a while, so here is a little of "this and that" as my great grandma used to say. :-)

Last week I acquired a set of ActivExpressions which are devices which can send messages to my interactive whiteboard (ActivBoard). Their basically little texting devices with which they can send text messages to my board. When everyone has answered, it pops up a graph showing what percentage gave what answer. The kids love it. In fact, it's hard to keep their hands off of them. I take away about 2 of them a day for kids pretending to talk on their "cellphones." Seriously, it is amazing how much time 7th graders still spend just playing. Craziness. I'm still learning how to use them effectively as a learning tool. (I'm open to any suggestions!)

This week we started an immigration project, since we're studying the Industrial Revolution. My students are researching the story of particular immigrants during the late 1800's, and then they're choosing someone they know who's family has immigrated to the US sometime in the more recent past (in the last 75 years :-)). Then they'll interview that person (or someone in their family who knows the family immigration story) and compare and contrast the two stories. Theoretically, this is the plan. I'm having a hard time getting the kids to understand that the person they interview doesn't have to be 1) a family member, or 2) someone who personally immigrated themselves. We spent forever clarifying that today. Some of the kids themselves are immigrants, while the families of other students have been in the country for many generations. I think that when all is said and done, they should be great stories, but it'll take some time. We're actually struggling to find good stories from the late 1800's. Anyone
have any immigration stories from that era? Here's hoping for the best on that project!

Then tonight, from my wonderful PLN (personal learning network) of individuals that I follow on Twitter, I found a great new way of displaying students writing in images, called FlickrPoet. You paste or type in text (poetry or otherwise), and then it chooses related images from Flickr to illustrate your writing. I tried it with some rain poems my kids wrote on a very rainy Thursday last week. Below are screen shots of the images that it produced for one of the poems. Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

But do they remember?

I think I'll show my students this video this week. I'll probably play it once all the way through, and then go back and watch it again, stopping to explain things in a touch more detail than is available in the provided 7 minutes. :-)